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Salivary Gland Cancer Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Patient Information [NCI] - General Information About Salivary Gland Cancer

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Tests that examine the head, neck, and the inside of the mouth are used to detect (find) and diagnose salivary gland cancer.

The following procedures may be used:

  • Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health. The head, neck, mouth, and throat will be checked for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient's health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).
  • CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.
  • PET scan (positron emission tomography scan): A procedure to find malignant tumor cells in the body. A small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein. The PET scanner rotates around the body and makes a picture of where glucose is being used in the body. Malignant tumor cells show up brighter in the picture because they are more active and take up more glucose than normal cells do.
  • Endoscopy: A procedure to look at organs and tissues inside the body to check for abnormal areas. For salivary gland cancer, an endoscope is inserted into the mouth to look at the mouth, throat, and larynx. An endoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing.
  • Biopsy: The removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer.
    • Fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy: The removal of tissue or fluid using a thin needle. An FNA is the most common type of biopsy used for salivary gland cancer.
    • Incisional biopsy: The removal of part of a lump or a sample of tissue that doesn't look normal.
    • Surgery: If cancer cannot be diagnosed from the sample of tissue removed during an FNA biopsy or an incisional biopsy, the mass may be removed and checked for signs of cancer.
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